SUFFOLK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Steven W. Tompkins, a member of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office since 2002, was appointed to serve as the Sheriff of Suffolk County on January 22nd, 2013 by Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. In November of 2014, he was elected to the office.
As the Sheriff of Suffolk County, Tompkins manages all operations at the Suffolk County House of Correction, the Suffolk County Jail and the Civil Process Division. In addition to providing care, custody and rehabilitative support for inmates and pre–trial detainees, Tompkins also oversees a management, security and administrative staff of over 1,000.
As the former Chief of External Affairs for the office, Sheriff Tompkins supervised his own division and was a member of his predecessor’s nine-person Executive Team, which was responsible for the day-to-day management of all Sheriff’s Office operations. As the Chief of External Affairs, he established sustainable partnerships with municipal agencies, neighborhood organizations, civic associations, local businesses and crime watch groups to increase community engagement in deterring youth crime and improving reentry programs. Sheriff Tompkins created the innovative “Common Ground Institute,” a vocational training and re–entry program that teaches marketable vocation skills in a classroom setting and allows inmates to hone those skills by renovating public lands and facilities throughout Suffolk County. One of CGI’s most unique features is its job placement component for graduates with employers who hire with full knowledge of the offender’s criminal history.
His work also focused on youth violence and crime prevention. He created the “Choice Program” which sends trained officers into the schools of Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop and Revere to deliver on the program’s mission of helping young people to make positive choices for future success while reinforcing the theme of respect for oneself and for others around them. Officers speak with students about a variety of topics specific to today’s youths including the dangers of drug use and gang involvement, as well as the consequences of criminal activity. Students are also educated about the role of government and good citizenship.
Before assuming his post at the Sheriff’s Office, Chief Tompkins served as the Director of Marketing and Public Affairs for the Dimock Community Health Center and served for ten years at AT&T Cable, prior to its purchase by Comcast Cablevision, where he produced scores of television programs, and industrial packages and public service announcements for nonprofit organizations and politicians. While at AT&T, he also served as a member of the communications cadre for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) where he was a field producer for the agency’s internal television network and press liaison for FEMA’s New England Region.
Sheriff Tompkins holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Boston College and a Master’s Degree in Public Affairs from the University of Massachusetts.
Sheriff Tompkins is a past President of the Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association – his second time serving in this capacity – and is an engaged community leader and respected advocate, currently serving as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Roxbury Community College and as the Vice President of Region 1 for NOBLE (National Organization of Law Enforcement Executives). He previously served as Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for Roxbury Community College; was the inaugural President of the Massachusetts Chapter of NOBLE; and completed a three-year term as a member of the prestigious Emerging Adult Justice Learning Community at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In 2011, Tompkins was appointed by Governor Patrick to serve as a Board member of the Boston Finance Commission. Sheriff Tompkins also serves on the Foundation Board and formerly served as chair of the Community Service Board for the Dimock Center, a Roxbury-based community health center that provides convenient access to quality medical and mental health care and human services. The Sheriff previously served as the Dimock Center’s Director of Marketing and Public Affairs prior to joining the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office.
History of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office
As its primary mission, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department (SCSD) is mandated to provide the safe care and custody of the men and women who are remanded to its facilities by the courts, and also to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and to serve and protect the citizens of Suffolk County.
To achieve these directives, the Department, under the leadership of Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins, offers a vast array of programming and services that include everything from addiction recovery, mental and physical health care, employment skills training, parenting and family reunification, high school and college courses, vocational education, and many others. The goal, which is to prepare returning citizens to more ably and sustainably care for themselves and their families, has transitioned the Department further away from its beginnings in a punitive system built upon punishment to one that embraces rehabilitation.
But, how did the current configuration of the SCSD come to be and what were its historical beginnings in the Commonwealth?
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department was established in its current form just a little over a decade ago back on August 6 of 2009, when, according to Massachusetts State records:
“The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department (SCSD) was established as an independent state agency on August 6, 2009, when the Suffolk County government was abolished. The Sheriff became an employee of the Commonwealth but remained an elected official and retained administrative and operational control over SCSD. In 2017, SCSD had 1,129 employees, 836 of whom were full-time correction officers, who supervised and cared for the inmates in SCSD’s custody.”
But, its roots as an institution in the state run far deeper, with an origin dating back several decades to the creation of the Penal Institutions Department and the enactment of Chapters 395 and 451 of the legislation known as the “Acts of 1897,” which initiated a division of powers within the city's institutions. It would be a configuration that would stand for just over twenty years. According to City of Boston archival records:
“The Penal Institutions Commissioner had charge and control of Deer Island, the House of Correction at South Boston and the House of Correction at Deer Island. Chapter 7 of Ordinances of 1920 abolished the Penal Institutions Department and again consolidated the public institutions into one department called the Institutions Department under the charge of one commissioner. Chapter 9 of the Ordinances of 1924 re-established the Penal Institutions Department separate from the Institutions Department. Chapter 138 of the Acts of 1991 abolished the Penal Institutions Department and the post of Penal Institutions Commissioner. The House of Correction at Deer Island was decommissioned upon the opening of the new facility at South Bay. The House of Correction is now under the charge of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office.”
The facilities of the modern-day Sheriff’s Office in Suffolk County include the Suffolk County House of Correction, casually referred to by many as “South Bay,” which was built to replace its antiquated predecessor on Deer Island and opened on December 26, 1991; and the Suffolk County Jail on Nashua Street, which opened in 1990 as the replacement facility for the historic Charles Street Jail, which operated from 1851 until its close in 1990. The Jail holds men who are awaiting trial and the House of Correction holds sentenced men and pretrial and sentenced women. From the years 2003 to 2019, the Department leased space to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the campus of the House of Correction in Building 8 for immigration detainees. In 2019, Sheriff Tompkins ended the contract with ICE in order to reallocate resources towards helping local women from Plymouth, Essex and Norfolk counties to address long-standing issues that have contributed to their involvement in the criminal justice system, following their transfer to the House of Correction from Framingham State Prison.
Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office operates the 9,500 square foot Correction Officer Training Academy or “COTA” facility in Chelsea, MA where its Training Division administers a training program that is recognized as a model throughout the world of corrections; and the off-site Civil Process Division, which serves documents at every stage of litigation, from the initial Summons and Complaint, to deposition and trial subpoenas, and post–judgment writs, in addition to several other functions.